More Cars We Don't Get To Test
by Bob Hagin
March 19, 2001
Periodically we feel compelled to write about certain vehicles we are aren't allowed to road test. Be it for insurance reasons, vehicle availability or just being in a small market, this latest list of rebuffs are particularly painful:
FREIGHTLINER UNIMOG - I knew that this oversized SUV thing was getting out of hand, but I never thought that Freightliner would eventually get sucked into the act. Bit the company already builds school and municipal transit buses, fire trucks and cab-over chassis for large Recreational Vehicles, so putting its big, homely Unimog into the SUV market seems like a natural. Actually the Unimog has been produced for European consumption for over 50 years and sold there as a go-anywhere unit that can be outfitted as a small fire truck, a municipal snow plow, a forestry vehicle or whatever. Now that DaimlerChrysler owners Freightliner, it was announced that the Unimog would be marketed here under the Freightliner name. Contrary to what has appeared in the enthusiast magazines, Freightliner doesn't plan to deck out the Unimog with a high-tech stereo system, leather upholstery and a satellite-controlled navigational system for the general population just yet. When I asked if we could try out one of the six-ton "stripper" models for a week around town, the suddenly cold voice at the Portland, Oregon office said that she would get back to me. I got the feeling that I shouldn't hold my breath waiting for that call.
LONDON TAXI LOOKALIKE - You can imagine my surprise when I spotted what appeared to be a slightly modernized and downsized black London taxi weaving its way through downtown San Francisco traffic. On closer inspection the lines looked rather familiar - except for the nose, and that was strictly British. The vehicle turned out to be one of twenty Chrysler PT Cruisers modified by Advanced Automotive Technologies (AAT) in Rochester Hills, Michigan. "Steve" (no last name given) at AAT explained that the ParaCruisers (the name given these small delivery vans) were built for an outfit called Parachute, Inc., an on-demand classy delivery service that's used by equally classy merchandisers to deliver items like cases of snooty wine or Rolex watches to upscale clients. By utilizing these unusual vehicles, the recipient receives merchandise in as little as an hour after the order is placed and avoids the gauche sight of a big, brown truck pulled up in front of a high-tone address. When I asked if a test ParaCruiser was available to the auto press for a week's test, the line suddenly went dead.
TOYOTA RSC - We get along very well with the folks over at Toyota. We go to their press showings and get to try their "regular" cars for a week at a time. And those test cars come to us clean and shiny, with a full tank of gas. But recently we requested a particular Toyota model for evaluation and were politely turned down. The Toyota RSC is a passenger coupe that could be easily be mistaken for a tall sports car or even a short, squat off-road racer. RSC stands for Rugged Sport Coupe and from any angle, it lives up to its name. The machine was developed to attract younger potential buyers and by younger, Toyota means those that aren't even old enough to drive, much less buy a new car. The Toyota customer base is, well, "getting on in years" and the company wants to have youthful sports enthusiasts Think Toyota when they're ready to buy. Well, maybe when some of my grandchildren take my place at this old word processor, we'll be able to give the RSC a try.
HYUNDAI HCD6 - Hyundai doesn't have a reputation in this country for producing exciting vehicles so when one came along, we jumped at the chance to try to get one for a week's evaluation. But again, it was not to be. The HCD6 Roadster is a no-kidding two seater, mid-engine sports car very much on the order of the new Toyota MR2. The engine in the HCD6 is the same 2.7-liter V6 that's used in the current Hyundai Santa Fe SUV. But unfortunately no one at Hyundai headquarters could tell me if the engine is "stock" or "hopped up," though we would have taken it even in stock form since we enjoy top-down driving. We promised not to try out the built-in rollover bar that's rises from the center console, but even this didn't move the Hyundai powers-that-be to entrust the HCD6 to us for a week of summer fun.
MERCURY MARAUDER - When we heard that Mercury was coming out with a new Muscle Car called the Marauder, it stirred our memory banks and forced us to relive the past. The original S-55 Marauder was a pumped-up '63 Mercury Monterey whose big 406 cubic-inch engine delivered up to 405 horses with a four-speed transmission and chassis changes to match. We immediately called the folks at Ford for a tryout. We were told that since the car is in short supply, the answer was negative. The new Marauder sure sounded good: a full-sized, body-on-a-frame four-door sedan that sports an overall de-chroming, Crown Victoria Police Special suspension, fat tires and wheels, and a supercharged 4.6-liter Ford V8 engine. No three-across seating here, but twin buckets up front with a floor shift in between. A perfect dignified hot-rod for a senior citizen like myself. Even after these superlatives, I was turned down.
Life is full of dull cars to drive around, we drive many each week. But when truely interesting cars come along, many times we get turned down. Sometimes life isn't fair.